In recent times, both houses of Parliament have been rocked by what has come to be known as the ‘Agusta Westland’ scam, which involved the purchase of VVIP choppers from a firm in Italy, with the kickback allegedly received by Indian beneficiaries for facilitating the deal. The scandal pertained to a period when the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) under Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was in power, and a court in Italy has identified and nabbed the bribe givers and has thrown hints about people in India who have been the recipients of the money disbursed by the firm to clinch the multi-million dollar contract.
The deal however was later annulled and the firm discredited and blacklisted. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government and the Defence Ministry have promised to investigate the whole affair thoroughly and initiate action against all the guilty, however highly placed they might be. The Agusta Westland scam involves humungous amount; allegedly, politicians in power, air force officials who occupied the highest echelons, media representatives and middlemen et al have had their palms greased by the company. And with rumours rife of the company being allegedly allowed to indulge in espionage activities with the connivance of insiders, the whole issue has turned even more sinister. While scams are nothing new for a country which has earned sufficient notoriety for breeding criminals, what is significant is that corruption is fast turning into an epidemic with everyone who is in a position of power, be it a politician, bureaucrat or even a low level government official, keen and zealous to fall prey to the lure of easy money. For every scam that is unearthed thanks to new initiatives like the Right To Information Act and a vigilant media, hundreds continue to be buried deep.
A few years back there were reports in the media about an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) couple who had allegedly amassed a fortune of over three to four hundred crores, an amount grossly disproportionate to their known sources of income. But even their ‘achievement’ pales into insignificance when compared to the exploits of a Deputy Commissioner of Transport in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, whose net worth amounted to over eight hundred crores! And the sleuths continue to unearth more! According to sources, his monthly income from bribes amounted to three crores. The Lokayuktas in several states have been conducting raids on bureaucrats and have inevitably stumbled upon huge fortunes amassed by officials whose pay packets could alone never be enough to finance such lavish lifestyles or investments in real estate.
The Bengaluru police recently busted a scam that centred around leaking question papers of public examinations, enabling the kingpin and his accomplices to make lakhs of rupees every time they were able to carry out their operations. With generous help from those in the establishment who too received their cut, the criminals managed to hoodwink the law and ply their trade, playing havoc with the careers of thousands of students. They landed in the net after they pushed their luck too far and leaked a question paper of a subject where a re-exam had been ordered. It is however a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the country, that in most cases involving criminal activities and corruption, the big fish often manage to slip away, while it is only the small fry that land in the net and are punished by the law. The situation prevailing now is such that it only requires an effort to be honest and straightforward. The present government under PM Narendra Modi has as one of its avowed objectives, the prevention of corruption in toto in all spheres of activity. Even if it is able to achieve a small percentage of success, it would be a major achievement in a land teeming with Mammon worshippers.